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Will A Longshot Emerge For Eagles?

Posted May 22, 2014

All they want is an opportunity. Players who are considered "longshots," who weren't taken in an NFL draft, just want some reps and a chance to prove themselves ...

All they want is an opportunity. Players who are considered "longshots," who weren't taken in an NFL draft, just want some reps and a chance to prove themselves.

The numbers say those players have very legitimate chances to make the NFL when they are thrown into competition against the 250-plus players drafted each year. In 2012, for example, teams signed 622 players who weren't drafted and 98 of them made Week 1 rosters. Another 33 made practice squads. Of the 53 players on Seattle's active Super Bowl roster in 2013, 21 were not selected in the draft.

When the Eagles set their 53-man roster for January's Wild Card weekend game against the Saints, 11 of the players on that roster originally entered the NFL as undrafted rookies.

And then there is this: undrafted players combined to fill out 27 percent of Week 1 rosters in 2013.

The percentages are there, then. A foot in the door means the world for NFL players, drafted or otherwise. So as we wait for next week's Organized Team Activities and a first look at the 2014 Eagles on the field, the understanding is that jobs are open and competition throughout the roster is anticipated.

Who among the team's non-drafted players will earn a roster spot? Who will be like defensive tackle Cedric Thornton -- on the practice squad for the first 13 weeks of 2011, then added to the roster late in the season --  and slowly work his way into a starting job? Or follow the route of running back Chris Polk, who made the 2012 roster and proved himself on special teams before having a chance to carry the football -- 11 times in all -- during the 2013 season?

If any of the rookies make it, they need to follow the same mental blueprint: Give it everything every single day.

"Hard work every day," said Polk. "You know the coaches aren't going to give you anything. You have to earn it and you can't let up. You see how players come and go, so you know that it could be you going if you don't produce every day."

Safety Chris Maragos was one of the first players the Eagles signed in free agency, an indication of just how far he's come in his NFL career. Maragos was originally signed as a rookie free agent by San Francisco in 2010. He played a year with the 49ers -- 3 games in 2010, actually -- and then was released. Maragos signed with Seattle and got his first action with the Seahawks in October of 2011. From that point on, he's been one of the best special-teams players in the NFL, a prime reason the Eagles were so aggressive signing Maragos as an unrestricted free agent in March.

"It's a tough road, but if you love the game and are dedicated to it, you just do it," said Maragos. "You have to stick at it. Every chance you get in practice or in a game, you make the most of it. Coaches are always watching you. You can't let down at all.

"I always had confidence in myself and I knew that if I had enough chances, someone would notice what I did on the field. I love working hard and I love playing football, so I'm glad to be here and I never take it for granted."

The focus at this time of the year is on the Eagles' new, higher-profile additions. The team was aggressive in free agency, signing safety Malcom Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll and trading for running back Darren Sproles. Also vital in the team's eyes was bolstering special teams and adding Maragos and linebacker Bryan Braman, who was bypassed in the 2011 draft. Braman signed with Houston and recorded 31 special teams tackles in 46 career games before entering free agency.

His story is similar to the hundreds of players in the league who were not drafted: The talent was always there, but teams just couldn't find a way to use a draft pick on Braman. That didn't bother Braman at all. He just wanted to have a fair shake to make it in the big leagues.

"It doesn't matter how you get here," he said. "Once you're here and you're out on the practice field, it's all about competition. Who works the hardest and who plays the best football?"

The Eagles have 15 rookie free agents on the current roster and all of them have a strong football pedigree and many have fascinating stories. Alejandro Villanueva, of course, is a former US Army Ranger who hasn't played football since 2009. Running back Henry Josey needed three surgeries to repair a 2011 knee injury and showed up at the NFL combine this year and ran a 4.43 40-yard dash. Trey Burton played wide receiver, quarterback, fullback and tight end at Florida, and is listed as a tight end with the Eagles. Quron Pratt had modest numbers as a wide receiver at Rutgers -- 86 catches, 1,064 yards and a touchdown in four seasons -- but his measurables (Pratt finished with a 34.5-inch vertical leap, 6.75-second three-cone drill and 11.39-second 60-yard shuttle, a 4.46-second effort in the 40 and benched press 225 pounds 14 times at his Pro Day) and his workouts prior to the draft convinced the Eagles to give him a chance when the draft concluded.

Pratt knows what he's getting into in the NFL. He has talked to enough players who have made the journey.

"I talked to a lot of guys last year that are in the NFL now,” Pratt told The Trentonian in New Jersey. “They told me, ‘Just keep working, man. Don’t feel out of it if you don’t get drafted,’ because a lot of them didn’t get drafted and they’re doing well in the NFL. They said to keep your head up and keep working."

Do that and only good things will happen. The numbers say anything is possible for players, drafted or not drafted, once they get their chance.

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